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Of Unknown Origin: A Memoir [Hardcover]

Debra Levi Holtz
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2001
A true story that could have been culled from the best of Chandler or Ellroy, Of Unknown Origin is about a woman insistent on re-claiming her family history and her own identity, however terrifying the consequences may be. Debra Levi Holtz's attempts to locate her birth mother are riddled with veiled threats and dead ends. The truth about Debbie's mother is inextricably linked to the buried history of her adoptive father, Jewish mobster Manny Skar, who was gunned down in front of their apartment building when Debbie was still a child. Debbie uses her reporting skills to unearth newspaper accounts of arrests, murders, and a mysteriously funded Vegas-style hotel. As she perseveres past lost files and misinformation, a picture emerges of the woman who handed her out a car window thirty-five years earlier-a selfish, coldly "rational" Ayn Rand devotee whose shady associations and intimidating presence recall Manny Skar.

Product Details


Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

When Holtz, a former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, was in her early 30s, married and a mother of two, she set out to find her birth parents. Her memoir begins with this intriguing scene: One night in 1959, a lawyer arranged for a smiling, well-educated woman named Helen to pass her newborn baby through a car window to Lynn and Manny Skar. Six years later, Manny, a mobster, was gunned down in the street near the family's Chicago apartment house. Holtz's memoir focuses on her search for and bewildering interactions with her birth mother, Helen, who turns out to be a delusional and eccentric Ayn Rand follower, given to weirdly Randian pronouncements, like calling Holtz's "invasion of [her] privacy... a precursor to violence." At first the book is suspenseful: Holtz speculates that Helen's con man boyfriend may have been her father, and fears the possibility that Helen will retaliate physically, attacking Holtz and her family. Holtz uses her journalistic skills to research her family's strange story and to weave it into a gripping narrative. But readers lured by the intriguing jacket and the fast-paced first half into expecting an electrifying climax will be disappointed. Still, fans of family drama and anyone involved with adoption issues will find Holtz's story both instructive and touching. (May)Forecast: A $20,000 marketing campaign, including an author tour to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, should help this book ride the continuing enthusiasm for family memoir.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Don't believe those heartwarming stories on TV about the now-adult adoptee searching relentlessly for her birth mother, and, TV crew in tow, finally reuniting with Mom, hugging and kissing as joyful tears stream down both faces. Holtz was adopted as an infant in a "gray market adoption," arranged for cash paid to a lawyer by affluent adoptive parents with gangster connections. She apparently never felt at home or like one of the family. With stubborn hostility, her mother refused to discuss the adoption beyond the fact that the birth mother handed the days-old infant to her through a car window. Holtz's investigation as an adult repeatedly dead-ended, which led her to suspect that her adoptive mother used crime connections to have a building full of records destroyed by arson. And when Holtz finally saw and spoke to her birth mother, the elusive woman on whom she had pinned so many hopes, the reunion she reports somberly counterbalances the ones on TV. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars pageturner! Sept. 17 2001
Format:Hardcover
I found this book so exciting that I had to stay up all night to finish it. Fiction could have not created a more complex set of characters than Debra Holtz's family, both adopted and genetic. The sense of place and time from her childhood Chicago to her adult California is terrific. I was facinated by the tremendous inner resources that Holtz developed to reconcile her personal story. Her writing is wonderful. The book is gripping.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! June 14 2001
Format:Hardcover
What a great read! Debra Holtz bares her soul in this riveting account of her search for hr biological parents. Although slow to start, once she begins the search in earnest I couldn't put the book down!
The nitty gritty details are fascinating, and the shady Mob-associated parts like her Chicago records being "lost", then discovering that they were in a mysterious warehouse fire, drive the story along.
The personal details are also memorable - Debra Holtz really "tells all" and lets the reader know just how it felt to dig so far under the surface of buried family history. She comes to terms with her past at the end in a truly moving scene. Although a real story, this would make a great movie! I hope someone in Hollywood snaps it up!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! June 14 2001
By Bryce Smythe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a great read! Debra Holtz bares her soul in this riveting account of her search for hr biological parents. Although slow to start, once she begins the search in earnest I couldn't put the book down!
The nitty gritty details are fascinating, and the shady Mob-associated parts like her Chicago records being "lost", then discovering that they were in a mysterious warehouse fire, drive the story along.
The personal details are also memorable - Debra Holtz really "tells all" and lets the reader know just how it felt to dig so far under the surface of buried family history. She comes to terms with her past at the end in a truly moving scene. Although a real story, this would make a great movie! I hope someone in Hollywood snaps it up!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pageturner! Sept. 17 2001
By Diane A. Baker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this book so exciting that I had to stay up all night to finish it. Fiction could have not created a more complex set of characters than Debra Holtz's family, both adopted and genetic. The sense of place and time from her childhood Chicago to her adult California is terrific. I was facinated by the tremendous inner resources that Holtz developed to reconcile her personal story. Her writing is wonderful. The book is gripping.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best written adoption book ever! Dec 15 2010
By readernyc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dear Debra Holtz, I had a wonderful afternoon and evening reaing "Of Unknown Origin" and have such admiration for your ability to write so well and even more: to tell a story that is riveting.

I'm an adoptive mother, and I often wonder who has the more wounded heart, we whose moms were not happy or we whose children are adopted. I have all the information on my daughter's biological mom, just because I feared she would be hard to find. I keep a yearly check on her. My daughter at 24 is going through an oddly diffucut time. Odd, because now when it's so late, she is furious at me for reasons no one can discern. I was a happy mom and we were always close. I keep wondering if it is the adoption, which she, like you, has always known about.

I'm, as with most adoptive moms these days, older, Jewish and the birthmom is Catholic and sounds lovely if unusual. My daugther is not ready to search but when she does, I have just about every bit of (quite hidden) information except for info on the birth dad.

But I digress mainly to tell you why I bought your book and why it so fascinated me. I agree with another poster here who said that reunions are so often fraught and not the happy togetherness so many adoptees wish for and even: expect. I have a friend who had a quite similar experience to yours, rejection not outright but eventually. I had hoped to be around to make sure my daughter's search, had it ended poorly, would be our joint sorrow. At this point, her rage at me is inexplicable as she turned out to be such a lovely and smart young woman. I often wonder if it is the adoption she doesn't yet want to learn about. Your book gave me so much to think about.

To end: Even if I were not a part of the adoption triad, I would have related to this book due to the excellent writing, the themes that are universal and the cast of characters all of whom are well-delineated.

Congratuations and anyone looking for a good read that will entrance you, buy this book. I never use my real name in reviewing but I would like to find you on the internet and write you directly, dear auther, Debra. FIVE STARS
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